Don't have any plans tonight? You ought to get over to Mississippi Studios and see Uprising,
a short performance that a handful of talented Oregon Ballet Theatre
dancers have created with achingly wonderful local folk band Horse Feathers.
It is well worth it's $15 ticket price and tonight is the last of its three shows.
Uprising is a new program that brings ballet to unconventional venues and basically aims to show the non-tutu crowd that classical dance doesn't have such a stick up its collective butt.
It's the brainchild of OBT soloist Candace Bouchard
who wanted to, well, give her fellow company members something awesome to do while they're off contract with the ballet. Each dancer is essentially "laid off" for a number of weeks during the year depending on which shows they are in. This year, Bouchard is only working 25 weeks with OBT. "I wanted to find more work for dancers. We work really hard in season but I only have 25 weeks this year..." she explained. "We need to find a way to stay in shape...and make some extra cash." She circled back to her idea of this being a way to draw in a new audience for ballet, too. "Not everybody wants to sit in a 3,000 seat theater for three hours [to watch a show]
" she says. "There's a lot of misconceptions about ballet. I think we as a company have to reach out to a new community."
Granted, in a town that boasts shows from dance companies from across the globe every month thanks to White Bird, crazy ass contemporary and experimental work at TBA and increasingly stylish, technically savvy performances from OBT itself, you'd think people would have figured out how wildly broad the spectrum of this whole ballet thing is by now. But if "dance education" in the future is going to equal intimate, in your face dancing with live backing from great bands in places where I can drink beer. then, by all means, I will back up the idea that we are still all hopeless, culturally bereft rubes.
Back to the show: Last night, Bouchard's idea blossomed into a rich, winsome performance in the small—by ballet performance standards—confines of Mississippi Studios. Horse Feathers' Justin Ringle and crew plucked out their delicate yet earthy odes on guitars, mandolins and even on the saw up in the balcony while below them OBT dancers Ansa Deguchi, Olga Krochik, Leta Biasucci, Steven Houser and Lucas Threefoot joined Bouchard for a series of small solos, duets and group work, their jetes and sweeping arm movements constantly bringing them dangerously close to the edge of the club's tiny stage—and sometimes over it.
It's clear in every step of Bouchard's choreography that she digs this band, as she matched playful, plucky footwork for a trio of one-upping ladies to the jauntier numbers or slid and slithered with partner Threefoot through a more emotional, passionate song. Yes, it's still ballet, but this personal and bittersweet stuff, made even more charming by proximity. Nothing makes a crowd appreciate a tough lift than when they can actually see how hard a dancer must grip his partner in order to make sure she doesn't faceplant into the floor. Or how much muscle control it takes to hike your foot over your head and then freeze it there for six seconds. It's the same kind of intimacy that always made OBT Exposed, the summertime, in the park practice series that the company discontinued last year, so amazing.
"THAT WAS SWEET!!!" an enthusiastic crowd member yelled after Steven Houser dispatched a tough solo that at one point had him thumping his heels as if providing percussion for the band above. And it was—both the dancing as well as the idea that you can scream encouragement to a ballet dancer the way you'd casually bust out for a request for "Free Bird." That's exactly what made the evening special—and should make out-of-the-box ballet shows like this a regular occurrence for a company that must lure new fans.
It's not perfect: An odd lack of chairs meant standing room only (and obstructed views) for half of the crowd at the club. And, as the evening progressed and more pints were guzzled, the irritating group of Chihuahua-sized girls next to me only got louder and drunker in their attempts to communicate during the performance. (Direct quote delivered in stage whisper about dancer Lucas Threefoot by a woman in fringe boots: "TRES LEG! We love tres leg. How...how..how do you say foot in Spanish?"
Irritants aside, it's a cool format for seeing ballet. Bouchard hopes to remount the show with Horse Feathers in January and maybe create a whole second show with a new band sometime after that. "This is definitely something I want to continue," she says. "I do
have a seven week layoff this spring..."
GO: Uprising at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., 288-3895. 8 pm Thursday, Nov. 5. $15. Info at obt.org/uprising.